SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL — As senior Megan Lenn looked blankly across the net at Oakland-Bishop O’Dowd, down 14-20 in what would be the final set of her high school volleyball career, her Sacred Heart Catheral teammate Nora Thompson came up behind her, and tapped her on her backside.
Lenn turned, and Thompson — like Lenn, one of nine seniors on the team — smiled and skipped to her spot in the front row.
Even during an abrupt end to what was otherwise a banner season for the Irish — losing 3-1 (25-23, 16-25, 21-25, 19-25) in the Northern California Regional Open Division regional semifinal — Thompson provided perspective. Though Sacred Heart Cathedral’s season is over, it was still a banner one for the program.
“They’re heartbroken because they really love each other,” said head coach Margi Beima, who won her 500th match this season. “We’ve been through a lot this season, and had an amazing season. No one wants to see it end.”
The No. 2-seeded Irish (28-6) got 13 kills from UCLA-bound Skylar Canady, 10 from UC Davis-bound Lenn and 10 kills and a block from Thompson, but couldn’t defend the No. 6-seeded Dragons’ high-leaping senior UC Santa Barbara-bound outside hitter Michelle Ohwobete, who tallied at least 20 kills, unofficially, coming from both sides and through the middle from the back line. Thompson played with her on her Red Rock club team this past offseason.
“She’s good, she’s an all-around amazing player,” Thompson said.
“We had practiced blocking schemes against her, and we got some good touches later in the game, but some of those touches, you can’t control,” said Beima, who brought her son, Joe — a star on the boys’ team — in to practice this week to help simulate Ohwobete’s power. “They basically set her half of their balls, and she took care of them.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral was forced out of its offense early and consistently, unable to get clean hits against a Bishop O’Dowd team that played its best defense of the season and kept Ohwobete away from the Irish’s lengthier defenders. Lenn was set up against her in the later two sets, but by then, the Dragons had all the momentum, as libero Ashley Chan tallied 18 digs and big outside hitter Canady was forced to help out defensively with 12 digs of her own.
“We didn’t play our cleanest game, that’s for sure,” Beima said. “Good teams have an ability, when they’re on — which O’Dowd was — to take you out of your offense. We have to tip our cap to our opponents, because they’re outside hitters were phenomenal.”
Beima was a bit stunned as she tried to sum up her feelings about this team, which has more seniors than any team she’s coached in her 17 years as Sacred Heart Cathedral’s head coach. Despite two big injuries — Lenn missed nearly half the season with a broken knuckle and Alyssa Taylor went down in late September with a torn ACL — the Irish won their second straight West Catholic Athletic League title (Beima’s third) and their second straight Central Coast Section Open Division title (Beima’s eighth), while recording their 12th season of 28 wins or more during Beima’s tenure.
“We could have gone so much further, but I’m satisfied that we’ve grown and been together, through and through,” Thompson said. “I know we could have gotten farther, but I’m just glad.”
After the game, Taylor — who had successful surgery and will return next year — thanked the seniors, because during her recovery, they treated her like a little sister.
Five of Beima’s nine seniors will go on to play at the next level. Beyond Canady and Lenn, Ashley Chan and Thompson will also play in college. Thompson is looking at Southern Oregon and is reaching out to other colleges, while Chan is deciding between several schools.
“This is such a talented and amazing group,” Beima said. “They didn’t get to achieve everything we wanted, but we had to deal with some major injuries, but we won the WCAL and the CCS Open. That’s pretty amazing, considering.”
Thompson — forced into a larger role as a hitter with the injury to Lenn — was Sacred Heart Cathedral’s leading hitter on the season, coming into the game with a .379 hitting percentage, with more kills — 184 — than anybody outside Canady. she also racked up 254 service aces, fourth on the team behind junior Amaya Keiper (272), Canady (301) and senior Alden Standley (353), who finished with three aces, 43 assists and two blocks on the night.
It was Thompson’s effervescent energy and bubbly personality that helped buoy the Irish through not only a tough night, but the more trying parts of the season.
”Nora is somebody who always keeps it light,” Beima said. “She is always very present. She doesn’t worry about winning. She doesn’t worry about losing. She just plays hard.”
After a post-game locker room talk, Thompson — who was promoted from the freshman team to varsity as a sophomore, and started the last two seasons — was the first one out into the stands, bounding up the seats to hug her mother.
“There’s no use being negative about it,” Thompson said. “Everything that has happened is in the past, and you just keep looking to the future. That’s my motto. I let failure be my fuel. The only thing you can do is look toward the future.”